KANSAS CITY, Kan. – It’s turned into the joke that nobody can really laugh about, the cloud hanging over one of the most successful teams in the history of NASCAR.
Thirteen races have passed since Hendrick Motorsports reached Victory Lane, the longest drought the team has experienced since the 2002-03 seasons. The result is that Hendrick is still stuck on 199 victories, the milestone maddeningly just out of reach.
“You know, now it’s turned. We’ve been so close to getting it the last month or so, it’s kind of a deal now where we’re joking, like, let’s not even think about it,” said five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who claimed the team’s last victory in October at Kansas Speedway.
The series is back this weekend for the first of two races this year.
Johnson also won from the pole at Kansas in 2008, and Jeff Gordon won the first two races at the track in 2001 and ’02. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has five top-10 finishes on the 1 1/2-mile oval and is third in points, while Kasey Kahne is coming off a Trucks series win at Rockingham.
No owner has more wins at Kansas Speedway than Hendrick.
“We know our teams are all capable of winning races. We’ve all been there,” Johnson said Friday.
“Whenever it happens, you’ll see a very big sigh of relief from Rick and the team.”
It’s not as though Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t been competitive.
To the contrary: It has been frustratingly close.
Hendrick’s stable has finished second four times since Johnson’s victory during last season’s Chase, including his second-place run last Saturday night at Texas.
Johnson led a race-high 156 laps, but a couple of subtle tweaks on his final two pit stops turned out for the worst. Greg Biffle passed him for the lead with 30 laps left, and the two-time winner at Kansas held on for his first Sprint Cup victory since October 2010.
“When you lead the most laps and finish second, those stink,” Johnson said. “Last weekend I thought long and hard about the last two pit stops and the adjustments we made. We still had a fast race car, but those last two segments weren’t the strongest.”
Johnson had another fast car a few weeks ago at Martinsville, and was leading late in the race. David Reutimann’s car stalled and brought out a caution, and then a wreck collected Johnson and Gordon, preventing them from making a run at the green-white-checkered finish.